Khelan Bhatia lives in the U Street area and recently started writing about style for Borderstan.
Welcome back, Borderstanis, to my second column on style and fashion. I promise to do my best not to have a sophomore-slump, like so many of our favorite musicians.
So speaking of music, I recently attended a Glee-inspired birthday party for my friends, Andrew and Paul, at the Duplex Diner. The invitations, decorations and music were all influenced by that kitschy musical dramedy set in high school. The birthday boys even did their own fun riff on Darren Criss’s “Kurt’s Teenage Dream.”
At the party, I kept thinking about Glee’s popularity and why it resonates with so many of us who haven’t seen the halls of our high schools in years.
Why is it such a phenomenon? Is it the Broadwayesque renditions of pop songs we say we hate (but secretly love)? Well, sure. Who doesn’t want to hear what those kids do with Katy Perry or Lady Gaga or even Florence + the Machine?
Is it the rapier wit of Sue Sylvester and the vapid, yet deceptively clever non sequiturs from Brittany S. Pierce? Hilarious, for sure. But the appeal goes deeper than that. At least it does for me.
On some subconscious level, it allows me to relive a pivotal time in my life. No, not the first time I bought a plaid shirt, but nice try. I’m, of course, referring to high school, that time in our lives where our hormones were raging and nothing made sense, and yet, we postured like we knew it all and we occasionally broke out in song.
Okay, maybe not so much the last part… unless you were in the choir. For a lot of us, like yours truly, grades 9 through 12 were less than ideal. Shows set in high school (e.g., Glee, Gossip Girl, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 90210, Veronica Mars), in their own ways, give us a do over for that often frustrating yet absolutely memorable time in our lives. We can be more popular, better dressed, better looking, smarter, have wittier come backs and so on. And, unlike real life, our problems can usually be solved within a handful of episodes or by the end of sweeps.
So this is the part where you’re wondering when I’m gonna talk about style, right? Stick with me; I swear I’ll get there.
Okay… I’m there.
If one believes that fashion is cyclical (and I do), then for the past few years, we’ve been in an Americana, preppy phase. There’s a little subset of this style that I like to call “academic chic.” Think cardigans, khakis, ties with diagonal stripes, plaid skirts, rugbys, sweater vests and tweed blazers with suede elbow patches.
These articles of clothing have become ubiquitous, especially in our little neighborhood, for the same reason that high school shows are so popular with those of us who have already had our 10-year high school reunions and beyond.
Virtually everyone looks good in this academia-based look. Start with a pair of slim-cut khakis (I like the ones from Dockers believe it or not), then go a slightly-rumpled oxford shirt (can’t go wrong with J.Crew), add a cardigan (I haven’t purchased anything from Banana Republic in years, but this cardigan is making me reconsider) and then finish it off with a fun tie that will give your look a sense of whimsy. Since we’re still in winter, a toggle coat is the perfect piece of outer wear for this look (I love this one from Rugby).
Remember last week how I said an outfit is a suit of armor? Well, ironically, “academic chic” reminds me how far I’ve come since I graduated from Kempner High in Sugar Land, Texas. In a way, it’s an armor that protects me from my past and makes me look forward to the future… stylishly, natch.